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Freeride and Downhill Bikes – MTB's to Drop Every Line

If you’re a fan of full-speed descents, fat drops and tough terrain, then it sounds like you need a mountain bike with plenty of suspension travel. But these long-travel freeride and downhill bikes can do much more than just provide maximum suspension for jumps and the like. Read on to find out everything you need to know about these speedy bike park machines and get some advice on how to find the perfect freeride or downhill bike for you, so your next visit to the bike park will be more fun than ever. Read more

Freeride and Downhill – The Mountain Bikes for the Hardest Shreds

Are you always on the hunt for a gnarly descent? Like your terrain tough and your adrenaline high? And you get your rest in uphill and go by shuttle or mountain railroad? Then a freeride MTB or downhill bike is the way to go. In short, they are heavy-duty machines for intense MTB downhill thrills. But what is the difference between a freeride and downhill bike? And how does their technology differ? Even though the two categories are very similar and seem to overlap at first glance, there are some distinctions between the mountain bikes used for freeride and downhill.

It started with the downhill MTB. Long before the terms freeride or gravity even existed, downhill riding was already big on the MTB scene. Lots of suspension travel, high-performance brake systems and virtually indestructible components were already the defining features of DH bikes back in the 1990s. As the bikes are put under high stresses and strains, downhill MTBs have also been one of the drivers for the development of increasingly sophisticated suspension forks and shocks, sturdier disc brakes, puncture-proof tires and hardier components in general. When mountain biking became really popular back at that time, downhill races were even the most popular live broadcasts on TV sports channels. And the word "race" here makes it clear what downhill is all about: getting to the finish line as quickly as possible, and doing so over the toughest downhill terrain. In short: downhill is a battle against the clock packed with adrenaline, for technically adept riders with a penchant for high speed.

At the height of the MTB boom back in the ‘90s, a trend emerged in Canada and the USA to have as much fun as possible with these fat bikes on descents with the highest technical demands. Suddenly it was no longer about the fight for seconds, but about flaunting as much style and cool stunts as possible – and so freeride was born. The fun alternative to nerve-wracking downhill. This new approach also resulted in new requirements for the bikes. While a downhill bike has to be practically indestructible, a freeride bike should be easy enough to handle for drops and air-time.

The Downhill MTB and Its Features at a Glance

Downhill requires maximum technical skills and is mainly about competition, going as fast as possible down challenging descents. Downhill bikes are therefore (with very few exceptions) full-suspension bikes, built to withstand the highest stresses and strains and ensure maximum stability while riding. These kinds of bikes have travel of at least 180 millimetres, but usually over 200 millimetres. Dual-crown forks are often fitted on downhill bikes because they provide significantly more stability than the single-crown forks usually used on mountain bikes.

The geometry of downhill bikes is designed so that the rider's centre of gravity is above the rear wheel as much as possible. In addition, a long wheelbase and extremely slack head angle ensure a smooth ride across rugged terrain at high speed. The brake systems have to withstand the toughest loads in downhill, which is why four-piston disc brakes with 203-millimetre discs are practically mandatory. The wheels and all other components on downhill MTBs are also designed for maximum resilience. Weight takes a backseat here, which is why downhill bikes, weighing at least 16 to 18 kilograms, are often somewhat heavier than freeride bikes.

The Freeride MTB and Its Features at a Glance

When it comes to freeride, it’s more important to have versatility on the mountain than the absolute maximum in suspension travel and riding stability. Like downhill bikes, freeride MTBs are almost always full-suspension, but, in contrast to DH bikes, they always have a single-crown suspension fork so there are no restrictions on slopy lines and jumps and riders have full handlebar control for very tight switchbacks. The suspension travel on a freeride bike is around 180 millimetres, which is usually somewhat less than on a downhill bike.

The position of the rider on a freeride MTB is closer to the centre of the bike (the bottom bracket) so the rider has good control of the bike during jumps. Freeride bikes usually have somewhat wider gear range than downhill MTBs so you can also ride uphill if needed. Weighing in at around 16 kilograms, freeride mountain bikes are somewhat lighter than downhill ones. Some manufacturers also produce freeride mountain bikes which are suitable for short ascents, blurring the line between freeride and enduro bikes in some models.

A Buyer’s Guide to Downhill and Freeride MTBs – What to Look out for

Now you know the basic differences between downhill and freeride mountain bikes, we’ll go into some detail about the individual components, so you know exactly what to look out for when buying your next bike for those fun-filled off-road adventures.

The Frame – A Compromise between Weight and Stability

As is the case with all mountain bike categories, the frames for top freeride and downhill models are also available in carbon. These frames are lighter than the more affordable aluminium versions, but in terms of function and stability, there are no differences between carbon and aluminium. In view of the high stresses and strains put on these bikes – because crashes are a frequent occurrence in these categories, and because weight is not the decisive factor, especially in downhill – you can definitely think about opting for a lower-priced aluminium frame.

The Suspension – The Key to Fun in the Bike Park

Suspension forks and rear shocks are key components in freeride and downhill, so you shouldn’t cut any corners here. As already mentioned, freeride bikes have travel of around 180 millimetres and downhill bikes 200 millimetres or even more. Since weight is not the key factor in this category, especially in downhill riding, steel springs are also used in high-end suspension elements, because they provide a fine, even response over the entire length of travel. Suspension forks and shocks with air springs, on the other hand, are the first choice if you want to fine-tune your setup whilst out on the trail or have to power up the odd uphill during transitions. As the suspension travel is very long, effective low-speed compression on the suspension fork and shock is particularly important to ensure that your power really reaches the pedal. As such, you should be able to finely adjust the compression rate on your fork and shock so that you can make an individual decision based your weight and riding style when it comes to how quickly and strongly your suspension should compress. And if you want to make frequent ascents when freeriding, then you could even think about setting your suspension on a very tight trail mode or even using lockout.

The Tires – The Grip Makes the Difference

When it comes to tires in freeride and downhill, the focus lies on maximum grip and stable cornering for safe descents on any surface and the best puncture protection. That's why freeride and downhill bikes are fitted with 2.3 to 2.4-inch tires with a pronounced tread and multi-layer carcass for effective puncture protection. Sure, these tires are heavier, but don't let the "slimmed-down" enduro or trail versions fool you: for out-and-out downhill and freeride thrills, heavy duty is the order of the day. Going tubeless should also be a matter of course for freeride and downhill: the higher puncture protection provided by tubeless tires compared to conventional ones with inner tubes is an advantage worth its weight in gold, especially in these mountain bike categories.

The Brakes – Strong Brakes Are a Must-Have

Manufacturers usually have special, extremely powerful and stable brake systems on offer for downhill and freeride. Disc brakes with four pistons and 203-millimetre-diameter discs are the order of the day here. The same goes for brakes as it does for tires: don't make compromises in favour of a slightly lower weight. Only large brake discs guarantee a reliable performance even during heavy braking at maximum speeds without overheating.

The Wheels – Stability and Reliability Needed

As with tires, the same goes for wheels on DH and freeride bikes: they have to be completely stable and reliable. Don't make compromises in favour of a slightly lower weight. The rims should be wide so that the chunky tires used in downhill and freeride can be pumped up nice and round and they should definitely be compatible with tubeless tires too. In terms of wheel diameter, there is a slight tendency towards 29-inch wheels on downhill bikes, because larger wheels roll more smoothly and thus provide even more stability and safety when shredding at maximum speed on rough terrain. The slightly smaller 27.5-inch wheels are a bit more stable due to their design and allow for more agile handling and a more versatile riding experience – making them more recommended for freeride bikes.

Some manufacturers combine wheel diameters on freeride MTBs, as well as on downhill bikes: 29 inches on the front wheel for stable steering and smoother rolling over obstacles, and 27.5 inches on the rear wheel for more agile steering and more wheel stability during jumps. These bikes are called "Mullet bikes", in reference to the famous haircut.

The bottom line is that the best wheel diameter for you is also a question of your personal taste and riding style.

The Gearing – One Chain Ring at the Front, Fine-Tuning at the Rear

Whether freeride or downhill, all bikes now run with just one chain ring. A special chain guide prevents the chain from falling off. When it comes to the rear derailleur and cassette, downhill riders pay particular attention to having the highest possible gears at their fingertips. Spectators may never suspect it, but in downhill, it often comes down to who has the strongest legs and can pedal the highest gears. Things are a little different when it comes to freeride. Here, it's more about having the widest possible gear gradation. The gears should therefore also have large sprockets for short ascents.

In both categories, the rear derailleur is one of the parts that suffers the most damage and needs to be replaced, so it doesn't necessarily have to be the most expensive version if you want to look after your pennies in the long run.

Downhill and Freeride Bikes – What Else Is Important?

A dropper seatpost is a must-have on a freeride bike. You usually ride with a lowered saddle, but then you can quickly and easily raise it for short uphill stints. To really get the most out of a dropper post, you should also be able to control it from the handlebars. When it comes to downhill MTBs, riders generally have their saddle set low, and whilst it isn’t really necessary to have a dropper post, it doesn’t hurt either.

Wide handlebars are very important for safe, smooth handling in freeride and downhill: downhill handlebars should be over 800 millimetres wide. If they are too wide, you can always shorten them later. Good, non-slip handlebar lock on grips are also crucial to ensure that you always have a firm grip on your bike and remain in full control. If standard grips don't suit you, if they are too thick or too thin for your hands, then you should definitely fit other grips on your bars.

Buy Freeride and Downhill Mountain Bikes Online – Thing to Keep in Mind

Now you know everything about freeride and downhill mountain bikes. Here’s a summary of the most important points for you and things to consider when buying a freeride or downhill bike in our online shop.

  • Downhill and freeride are all about having as much fun as possible on off-road trails down the mountain. Steep descents, drops and jumps are where these bikes feel most at home.
  • Both disciplines originated in the 1990s. Downhill is even considered the original mountain biking discipline.
  • Freeride and downhill have high demands when it comes to material, so emphasis should be placed on having durable, solid parts. Above all, the frame, suspension, brakes, wheels and tires must be able to withstand the highest stresses and strains.
  • For maximum off-road performance, particularly high-quality suspension elements are key. Adjusting the suspension and rear shock absorption to the rider and trail is often crucial.